- Listen to an interview with the author, M.R. Hall. [MP3]
The Coroner (Coroner Jenny Cooper series) Hardcover – 2 Jan 2009
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Our heroine has psychiatric problems, for which she is initially prescribed, then gets hold of illegally, TEMAZEPAM. This is a sleeping tablet - if she took anything like the quantities she lobs down constantly she'd be in a coma! (Mind you, the book might have been a better read.) She's constantly taking the things, on a couple of occasions we are told she has had a "sleeping tablet" as well, and she drinks copiously. Believe me, if she even survived the doses of Temazepam, with that lot as well she'd never wake up! And this guy writes for Casualty... Presumably he means Diazepam, or some similar tranquilizer, but the doses are still massive. It just doesn't work, every time the drug is mentioned the story falls apart, because at that point she should just go to sleep. But no, she presides over a court!
Howler two is even more unforgivable - didn't the guy do ANY research? At one point, a Coroner's Jury declares a verdict of Unlawful killing by specific person. Coroners can only claim unlawful killing against "persons unknown"; a suspect cannot be named as they have no right of defence in a Coroner's court. It is for the police to follow up suspects for them to be tried in ordinary court. This was changed after the Coroner's jury found Lord Lucan guilty in absentia, so it is not exactly a new rule. Surely crime writers should at least familiarise themselves with basic law - this is not esoteric case law, any more than the temazepam issue is esoteric medicine. Try wikipedia...
So, every time you read the mistakes, the narrative hiccups. We are supposed to admire the heroine for battling against mental illness, but she's a mess. She lies, works when she is absolutely off her head on medication, has temper tantrums - it is insulting for all those people who deal with mental illness on a daily basis and manage it appropriately. Characters are two-dimensional, storylines start then go nowhere, and the ending is deeply unsatisfying. Not that I cared much by then.
I haven't written a bad review before - I usually work on the basis it's not the author's fault if I don't like the book. But I feel this author shows no respect for his readers; he couldn't even be bothered to do very basic research. Well, it may work for television soap operas where the attention of the viewer may not be total and where events move fast so mistakes can be absorbed. But if someone has gone to the effort of reading a book, chances are they are paying attention. I actually feel very insulted, reading a book is a conscious decision, and it is not good enough to write
OK so we have the usual maverick type person, knocking back tranquilizers and wine as if they are going out of fashion, full of angst and generally falling apart and I felt a weariness of spirit come upon me and thought Do I really really want to read this? Do I really want to end up feeling as if I too would like to put my head in the gas oven? (As I am all electric decided there was no danger so on I went). I persevered and glad I did as I gradually became drawn into the story. Jenny's curiosity is aroused by the previous coroner's behaviour prior to his death and the fact he was trying to get to the bottom of the death of a teenager who had committed suicide in a young offender's institution. Then there was the drug related death of a young teenage girl, another suicide, seems a clear open and shut case, but as with all good crime stories, we begin to doubt that all is as it seems and Jenny decides to investigate further.
Once again, the usual stock characters pop up, the local businessman and Member of the Council, obnoxious and pompous who does not want Jennie to get involved, he is clearly on the make and has been taking backhanders from the owners of the offender's facility who want to build a bigger and better commercially run building elsewhere; the policeman, ambitious and ruthless who has skimmed over the investigation into the teenage girl's drug induced death; a slimy lawyer and an investigative journalist seeking a good story.
As she digs deeper into the mystery and cover up nasty things begin to happen to Jenny and her friends and her new lover, but the reader knows that ultimately she will find the guilty party. She does but it is not quite such a clear cut ending as normal and we are left with characters who are obviously going to reappear in the next story of what we are told is 'a fantastic new series heroine who takes on the establishment in a search of truth and justice whilst dealing with a very broken personal life'.
I always feel if you are going to use a cliche or two, then you may as well go the whole hog and The Coroner certainly does not hold back in this regard. And yet, and yet - I found myself becoming more and more engrossed with this story, I began to feel great sympathy for Jennie and though there were times when I felt like screaming DON'T DO THAT as I could see disaster just around the corner, ultimately this turned into a real page turner and one that I thoroughly enjoyed, despite my initial doubts. The final scene in the court room was very exciting and extremely filmic and I did my usual trick of casting actors in the various roles - already have an idea for Jennie - and I find that I can recommend this book to you as a good start to the series and I am looking forward to the next one.
I had assumed, that like JK Rowling, M R Hall was a woman as the book is certainly written from a woman's viewpoint and is sympathetic to Jenny's unhappiness and vulnerability. However, I have just checked and have discovered that he is "a screenwriter and producer and former criminal barrister, a profession he left due to a constitutional inability to prosecute".
So now we know.
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